By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Meeting notices about the proposed CapX high-voltage power line that will cross Minnesota from Fargo to Monticello began coming to Jeff and Patricia Ware in 2010. Assuming that the line would run along the Interstate 94 corridor where there were already utility easements, the Wares ignored the letters.
It wasn’t until they received a letter from St. Cloud law firm Rinke, Noonan in June 2011, that they became concerned. Soon after that, a letter arrived from CapX saying the power transmission line would run along the south boundary of their 23 acres, the St. Joseph – Rockville Township line.
The Wares came to St. Joseph Township 34 years ago. They designed and built a house nestled in old-growth woods.
Pat grew up in Chicago, travelling to Central Minnesota for one week’s vacation each year. The farm is a piece of the land that has been in her family for generations.
All of their land is wooded pasture, where they raise dairy goats. They have heated their home with wood taken from the land — from woods they respect and treasure.
“We have never cut down a live tree,” Pat said. “We don’t even cut down a standing dead tree if it’s supporting wildlife.”
Despite all of their care, they had to listen to the sound of giant trees cracking and falling over as a swath 75 feet wide was bulldozed this year.
Rather than running along a transportation corridor, the line will run through many acres of forest in Central Minnesota.
However, it is not just the taking of their old-growth forest that has turned the Wares’ lives upside-down. It is the prospect of living so near the electromagnetic frequency (EMF) of a high-voltage power line.
“EMFs had been classified as a Class B carcinogen,” Pat said. “Because it couldn’t be proven, they were removed from that list.”
The “danger zone” along the power line is 1,000 feet on either side. The Wares were told that since their front door is 1,000 feet from the line, they are fine.
“However, we do step outside our front door,” said Pat. “The bulk of our land (18-19 acres) is between our door and the line.”
The line will initially carry 345 kilovolts, but Ware said it will be doubled in the future. The dairy goats would not have all-natural milk while living under such a line.
The Wares use their entire acreage during every season. They snowshoe and cross-country ski on it. The whole family takes nature hikes all year.
“Jeff is out there year ‘round collecting fuel for our main heat source,” Pat said. “Our land is a wildlife sanctuary, a habitat to share with family and friends. We had hoped our grandchildren would grow up here like our children did.”
Dozens of landowners in Central Minnesota joined together in a lawsuit invoking the 1977 “Buy the Farm” law that could require electrical companies to purchase a complete property rather than just an easement, if the landowner wants to move than live near the utility.
A recent state Supreme Court ruling has upheld the Buy the Farm law.
“We’re going to follow that ruling,” said Xcel Energy’s CapX Communications Manager Tim Carlsgaard. “What everyone is waiting on now is the ruling in another compensation case.”
When the specifics of that ruling for the city of Hastings are known, compensation details for the Stearns County landowners can be determined.
CapX2020 is the first transmission expansion in Minnesota in more than 30 years, Carlsgaard said.
“That particular route was identified by a state-hosted task force of local officials, and approved by the Public Utilities Commission,” he said.
“The most depressing thing about it has been how ugly people can be when money is at stake,” Pat said. “I’ve been blown away about this whole thing; it’s disturbing on a lot of levels.”
Neighbors Doug and Vicki Hawkinson were first told that they would need to provide an easement. Weeks later, CapX representatives told the Hawkinsons they were doing them a favor by moving the power line over, Vicki said.
Now that the Hawkinson’s home is just over the easement line, they are ineligible for any compensation from CapX. But they know they do not want to live there within a 90-degree angle where the line’s direction turns and are trying to sell their home.
“People rate our home online and several have said they love the house and love the location but would not live under a power line,” said Vicki.
The Wares are simply taking one day at a time.
“It’s not just about us and what our woods are worth. It’s not a monetary issue at all, but how we value the land,” said Pat. “There are so many people whose hearts are broken.”